To: CCF Victoria staff, members and stakeholders
Over the last 48 hours, we have seen a series of important announcements made by both the Federal & State Governments, which has a major impact on business, workers and our broader community. First and foremost, the decisions being made are a direct response to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 (C-19) virus and both the Prime Minister and Premier are to be commended on their leadership in protecting our personal health and well-being.
Given the rapidly changing nature of the C-19 crisis and the uncertainty it’s created, it is important that we provide you an update on the work CCF Victoria is doing on your behalf and the announcements made.
- Essential Services
I have taken a number of personal calls today on whether the civil construction industry is classified as an “essential service”.
Under the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and as announced by the Prime Minister last week, the construction industry is seen as an “essential service” until otherwise advised by the Prime Minister, or Premier. The civil construction industry provides essential infrastructure systems and networks for supply of electricity, natural gas, water, waste water, and telecommunications that are critical for the personal safety, health and welfare of the population. In addition, the sector makes a significant social and economic contribution to our Australian way of life and is an important part of it.
Ai Group’s CEO, Innes Willox, has written directly to the Prime Minister this evening, seeking clarification on the definition of “essential services”. In his correspondence, Willox states, “as we inevitably move towards shutting down parts of our economy to deal with the health threat of coronavirus, it is vital that the designation of essential services is appropriately broad and includes the supply chains necessary to allow those essential services to continue to operate. The definition of essential services also needs to be coordinated on a national basis to minimise confusion; to allow the free movement of goods and services across borders; and to ensure that it is clear to business operators which services may continue to operate during shut-downs”. Willox further added, “there should also be an ability to adjust the definition of ‘essential’ in the light of experience and emerging circumstances.” This is a view and request CCF supports.
During our recent representations late last week to the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), the advice we received is that there was no intention to mandate a widespread “shut down” of construction sites. As you will appreciate, decisions are progressively being made and circumstances are changing. We are working to make sure that decisions made that impact on our industry are well-informed and we will continue to engage in representations to Government in this regard on your behalf. Details of this work is available on the CCF website and the attached link: https://www.ccfvic.com.au/ccf-victoria-media-release-construction-coalition-calls-for-sensible-covid-19-policy-to-protect-health-of-industry/
2. Our Advocacy Work Update
I am continuing to engage in regular discussions with Government Ministers, Departments & Agencies on a daily basis.
In confirming the above “essential service” classification and further to my CCF Connect article last Thursday, we are working with the Building Industry Disputes Panel (BIDP) who has been requested by the DPC to facilitate discussions for the purposes of preparing a set of guidelines setting out the approach and options recommended to be taken in responding to the potential for interruption to building and construction work as a result of the C-19 pandemic. Our initial telecon meeting is set for this Wednesday, 25 March 2020, where we will discuss material suggestions and ideas for consideration.
3. Announcements made over the weekend by the Premier, the Hon Daniel Andrews
Two major statements have been released by the Premier and many of you will have seen these via media reports.
(i) The Premier informed the National Cabinet this evening that Victoria will proceed over the next 48 hours to implement a shutdown of all “non-essential” activity across our state to combat the spread of Coronavirus. This is not something done lightly, but it’s clear that more Victorians will contract coronavirus, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and more Victorians will die. This was a position re-inforced to me personally by Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, in our meeting last Wednesday evening. All measures being implemented in Victoria are consistent with the health advice provided by the Victorian Chief Health Officer. The decision whether to re-open schools after the Term 1 holidays will likewise be determined following advice from the Chief Health Officer. The Premier will have more to say on these measures tomorrow morning, Monday 23 March.
(ii) The Premier and State Treasurer, The Hon Tim Pallas, announced on Saturday the following series of important support packages for business:
- a 1.7 billion economic survival and jobs package, which has been developed following discussions at National Cabinet and complements the work of the Federal Government.
- As part of the package, the Government will provide full payroll tax refunds for the 2019-20 financial year to small and medium-sized businesses with payroll of less than $3 million – giving $550 million back to businesses who need it. Payments will start flowing next week and will save eligible business up to $113,975 a year, with businesses saving an average of $23,000. These businesses employ around 400,000 workers. This assistance is a refund, not a loan.
- The same businesses will also be able to defer any payroll tax for the first three months of the 2020/21 financial year until 1 January 2021, freeing up a further $83 million in cashflow.
- Commercial tenants in government buildings can apply for rent relief – a move private landlords are also being encouraged to undertake – and 2020 land tax payments will be deferred for eligible small businesses.
- The Government will pay all outstanding supplier invoices within five business days – releasing up to $750 million into the economy earlier. The private sector is urged to do the same where possible.
- The Government will establish a $500 million Working for Victoria Fund in consultation with the Victorian Council of Social Services and Victorian Trades Hall Council. The fund will help workers who have lost their jobs find new opportunities, including work cleaning public infrastructure or delivering food.
- The Government will also facilitate job matching to help Victorians find short-term or casual roles.
- Due to the ongoing economic uncertainty the pandemic is causing, the 2020-21 Victorian Budget will be deferred – in line with all other Australian Governments and agreed by National Cabinet. The Government’s base review outcomes will also be deferred.
4. Announcements made over the weekend by the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison
The Federal Government announced details of its “unprecedented” $66 billion second stimulus package to “cushion the blow” of the coronavirus on the economy. The stimulus efforts now totals $189 billion, or around 10% of the economy.
The following is a summary of the stimulus packages announced by the Federal Government (so far):
- An effective doubling of income support for those on the JobSeeker payment. The payment, formerly known as Newstart, will be supplemented with an additional $550 per fortnight, bringing it to a total of $1,100 per fortnight. This will also apply to, for example, sole traders who have found their work has dried up due to the coronavirus. The assets test and the waiting period have been abolished. The income test still applies.
- A further $750 payment – on top of the first one – for those on income support who are not eligible for the coronavirus payment. For example, this would include people on the aged pension or carer’s allowance. It will benefit about five million people.
- The ability to withdraw super, for those who are facing coronavirus-led financial hardship. Those eligible will be able to draw down $10,000 of their super this financial year, and $10,000 next financial year. The minimum superannuation drawdown requirements for retirees will be cut by 50 per cent for the next two financial years, and the deeming rate has been reduced in line with Reserve Bank cuts.
- Cash payments for small to medium businesses. This is the largest part of the package. All employing small businesses will receive at least $20,000, and larger small businesses will receive up to $100,000.
- More money into the financial system. In addition to an injection of $105 billion, with the intention of increasing the availability of credit, the government would guarantee in a 50/50 partnership more lending to small-to-medium businesses. This would include loans of up to $250,000 over 3 years – with no payments required for 6 months.
- Increased flexibility in insolvency and bankruptcy law. This includes increasing the threshold at which a creditor can pursue insolvency proceedings – from $2,000 to $20,000 – and giving people up to six months to respond, over the current 21 days. Most significantly, businesses will be able to trade while insolvent.
Tonight, announcements were made by the Prime Minister in further efforts to curb the spread of the C-19 virus. While parents can continue to keep their children in school, licensed clubs, pubs, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, gymnasiums and places of worship will close from midday tomorrow.
5. CCF Victoria Operations Update
(i) Business Continuity Plans (BCP)
At CCF Victoria, we are remaining vigilant to minimise the impact of the C-19 virus on all our people, our extensive range of services provided to members, and the business community in which we operate. As a management team, we are continuing to monitor the situation, meeting on a daily basis, and are following the advice of the relevant Australian and State Government authorities.
We continue to review our Business Continuity Plans (BCP) with many work activities being considered for remote and virtual delivery. I encourage members, if not so already, to consider the preparation of their own (BCP) to the end of the year. Your plan must have the capacity to take advantage of new business opportunities that may emerge as a result of the current emergency.
(ii) Civil Train RTO Operations
As the construction industry is currently classified as an “essential service”, we are committed to continue delivering our “scheduled and “on-site training programs through our Civil Train RTO operations but this will be done with reduced classes and in accordance with relevant directions given by State authorities. People can safely participate in Civil Train courses and programs. Details of these measures introduced are available on our CCF website and the attached link: https://www.ccfvic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/CCF-Civil-Train-CV-19-Safety-1.pdf
In summary, it is becoming increasingly evident that the building and construction industry in Victoria is likely to be hit by a significant downturn, the potential for which cannot be underestimated. Many of you, our members, will need help, support and advice during this very difficult time ahead.
I want our Members at the management and supervisory level to feel confident leading their team through these unprecedented times. As leaders we need to act but not overreact. It’s natural for our people to feel fear in times of danger and uncertainty. However, panic is combated by information, communication and leadership. Do not underestimate how much misinformation is out there, and what nervous people will latch onto. Be sure to remind yourself and your staff that the best minds in the world – many of these are Australian – are guiding the national and state response.
Remember that Australia is a strong, resilient country and we will survive this. Australia has food security like no other country in the world. Australia’s financial institutions are strong. Australia’s balance sheet as a country is stronger than most. Australia has the best health system in the world. Australia has the benefit of being an island and is learning from others impacted by the virus earlier.
Finally, CCF Victoria is a large, diverse, collegiate group of good people. We have a proud history of working together and supporting each other in challenging times.
If you need a hand from your CCF, please do not hesitate to contact me directly, your MSO, or ring 1300 DIAL CCF.